Project for HCDE 318, User Centered Design.
Sprout is a mobile-based tool aimed to help plant owners feel more connected with their plants. With the help of a physical monitoring device, the app receives health metric data about the plant and gives personalized care recommendations so users can take better care of their plants and also supports a variety of features such as community posting, a plant encyclopedia, and a way to journal and keep track of your plants growth.
This project spanned ten weeks in Spring 2018 during the course HCDE 318: Introduction to User-Centered Design where we followed the UX design process starting from user research and ended with creating hi-fidelity mockups.
Plant care can often be difficult and involve a lot of trial-and-error, especially for novice plant owners. It's especially difficult to raise plants from seeds to full maturity. Plant owners feel attached to their plants and want them to be healthy and thrive but can feel disappointed when they are unable to accomplish this.
Sprout's main goal is to help users experience emotional fulfillment during their gardening activities. We have accomplished this through our revolutionary mobile application and unprecedented physical device that creates a simplistic and joyous experience. Our solution not only allows you to take a seedling to maturity, but gives you a sense of pride and accomplishment over your personally grown plants.
Our team conducted user research through four semi-structured interviews with plant owners with varying experience levels and interests in plant care. We asked questions about their general plant care routines and the reasons why they took care of plants. We interviewed two college students who mostly took care of indoor plants and two older plant owners who mainly gardened outside.
After these interviews, we realized how broad of a group plant owners were and that depending on the type of plants people took care of, their needs and desires are very different. The concerns of indoor plant owners compared to outdoor plant owners were different so we decided to take the findings of our research and make two personas representative of these different type of plant owners.
Our team also performed competitive analysis on four different plant-based applications. We found that there are apps for a variety of purposes such as plant identification, specific plant care instructions, and asking a community for gardening advice but the implementation of these apps could be improved and they also lacked an active user base.
With the findings gathered from our user research, we created two personas that were representative of the people we interviewed. As we were performing thematic analysis and grouping our data, we noticed that the experiences of indoor plant owners versus outdoor plant owners were very different so we separated our research based on this criteria and modeled personas for each type of plant owner. In the personas, we synthesized our findings into categories such as goals, desires and motivations, and pain points. Our goal for our personas was to use our research to create a realistic representation of a typical plant owner in our user group to avoid assumptions and stereotyping our users.
After creating these persona’s, we decided to focus on the experience of indoor plant owners and used Gabby’s persona to create a user journey map representative of her normal plant care experience.
User Journey Map
Our user journey map represents one of our personas, Gabby’s, experience with how she interacts with her plants after she gets home from school. We drew on findings from our user research to determine the events that would be typical in a normal plant care routine. Through this map, we wanted to represent the emotional attachment that plant owners feel for their plants and how plants are able to be a source of relaxation for many plant owners.
Based off of our extensive user research and personas, we were able to create comprehensive design requirements that incorporated the user’s goals. We utilized two different design methods: Action, Object, Context and Data, Functional, Contextual, which captured the desires, motivations and pain points of our personas and allowed us to incorporate them into the core of our product.
Once the requirements were solidified, they gave us a solid foundation to base our interactions off of in our storyboards.
- Users need to experience emotional fulfillment from their gardening activities
- Plant owners need to understand the best plants to grow inside their homes
- Create a garden community where people can share their plant knowledge
- Plant owners need education on how to diagnose plant illness and pests
- Plant owners need inspiration for their gardens/plants
After finalizing our design requirements, we wanted to ensure that we had captured the interactions of our storyboards while maintaining the functional design requirements in our Information Architecture diagram. Beginning with ideation, we went through multiple white-boarding and brainstorming sessions to create 4-5 distinct features. Once accomplished, we then mocked up our Information Architecture using Sketch to visually understand the flow and sub features of our mobile application.
Our IA Diagram allowed us to understand the complexity, dependencies, and flow that we need to incorporate into our future design.
Using the hierarchy of our information architecture map, we were able to create our first prototypes of the project. We created paper prototypes that represented three key tasks of our app. We chose paper prototypes given their incredible efficiency, low production cost, and usefulness in testing and getting feedback on how to improve our system. The three tasks we chose were:
- Initial set-up + account creation: Users set-up an account with the app and complete a questionnaire that tailors their experience according to their responses. Additionally, users will enable permissions and create their own personal profile with the app.
- Add a plant: Users will follow a procedure to add a plant to the dashboard and sync a device with it should they choose.
- Open a plant profile and view associated sub-tabs: Users will open a plant from the dashboard, and view its health status as well as care recommendations, a journal, and journey tab to assist them in the gardening process and enhance your user experience through increasing emotional attachment between you and your plant.
After completing our paper prototypes, we constructed a usability test with potential users to receive feedback as part of our quick evaluation.
Quick Evaluation Findings
We used our paper prototype to conduct usability testing with four potential non-HCDE users. This study sought to evaluate the usability of our paper prototype and to receive feedback on what changes need to be made for our annotated wireframes.
We tested our prototype with four undergraduate students aged between 19-21. They came from a variety of disciplines, including Environmental Science, Public Health, Electrical Engineering, and Biochemistry. Three of our participants were women, they all lived in dorms or apartment housing while our one male participant lives with his family back home. Their plant experiences were a wide spectrum, ranging from experienced to novice gardener.
Our method of testing consisted of asking pre-test questions, task completion and observations, and post-test questions. We had our users think aloud during the testing process, so we could learn their train of thought and use this information to make our key task processes more intuitive and improve our apps user experience.
Based of our tests, we made three major findings:
1. Some terminology is too advanced or technical.
2. Task hierarchy is not clear.
3. Questionnaire answers don't match what our users think.
These observations led us to reconsider our intended target audience for our app and to cater to their needs. Our approach was only serving experienced gardeners, not novice gardeners. This led us to simplifying our apps language and procedures, and to focus on enhancing the emotional aspect that is common amongst all levels of gardeners in our annotated wireframes.
Drawing off of what we learned from our paper prototypes, we began to plan out what our full system might look like using low-fidelity wireframes. These wireframes allowed us to flesh out our functionality without yet worrying about design specifics such as color, images, exact iconography, and other details. Our wireframes touched on key points such as account creation, user profiles, community pages, and plant overview. We consolidated and annotated the most important parts of our wireframe, which can be seen in the Annotated Wireframes document. The full wireframe is also available to view.
High Fidelity Mockups
After receiving feedback on our wireframes, we created four hi-fidelity mockups of some key screens of our app: the main dashboard, two of the plant profile pages, and the discover page. We created these mockups in order to visualize what the final product would look like. We chose a light but vibrant green as the main color of our app to be playful, inviting, and match the plant-based theme of our app. Our goal with the app was to be able to convey important information in a clean and easy-to-understand manner so users understood how to take care of our plants. Another goal was to provide emotional attachment between users and the plants, which is why we included features such as personal photos of the plants and adding nicknames so we can help the foster a closer bond.
We started this project with nothing but a user group. None of us are gardeners, though we know some, and we had no idea of the daily processes our users go through, their goals and pain points, or even what being a hobby gardener really entails. That being said, we learned much more about the technical aspects of gardening than we had ever expected. And, enjoyably, we learned how much the emotional aspect of gardening tie into every part of the job. We knew that we wanted the emotional experience of our users to lead us, and for that reason we could not have chosen a better subject to focus on. Gardeners work more with their hearts than their hands.
Our project only spanned ten weeks, so our entire process was very abridged. We only interviewed four users, and we only went through one round of user testing with our paper prototypes. If we had more time or if we were to continue working on Sprout, we would expand our research to many more users and we would go through several more rounds of user testing and design iteration. While we are extremely proud of our result, we know that this is only the starting point for us.
Overall, we could not have asked for a better team to work with, or a better group of users to work for. Our strengths and weaknesses came together over these ten weeks to create something beautiful, and we grew a true appreciation for our user group and what they go through. Not only did this experience exercise our empathy, but it grew us as designers.